The vanishing season, p.1
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       The Vanishing Season, p.1
 

           Jodi Lynn Anderson
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The Vanishing Season


  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  Advance Reader’s e-proof

  courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

  This is an advance reader’s e-proof made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs. Readers are reminded that changes may be made prior to publication, including to the type, design, layout, or content, that are not reflected in this e-proof, and that this e-pub may not reflect the final edition. Any material to be quoted or excerpted in a review should be checked against the final published edition. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  Dedication

  “Even the open, transparent lake has its unknown depths, which no divers know.”

  —HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  Epigraph

  * * *

  A key is buried under the front stairs of 208 Water Street. Scorched on one side, was it in a fire? Who lost it and when?

  For me it’s a clue, a piece of the past. Because the yard of this house is a graveyard of moments, and everything left behind is a reminder: sandpaper, a bracelet, a love note, some letters, a match, a movie ticket stub, a postcard. All of Door County is a burial ground. All of the world. And I am here to dig.

  It seems that this town has an appetite for the young; it swallows them whole, right into its very dirt.

  A key is buried under the front stairs on Water Street.

  This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

  I am looking for the things that are buried.

  * * *

  Contents

  Cover

  Disclaimer

  Title

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  1

  THE LARSENS FIRST READ ABOUT THE MURDERS ON A MID-SEPTEMBER EVENING in Maggie’s senior year of high school, the day they moved to Gill Creek. This was the first time it began to feel like something was looming near them, a little bit off on the horizon. It was also the first day Maggie saw Pauline Boden. She was standing at the lake’s edge and leaning against a boulder, as skinny as a stork, staring out at the water.

  “Someone your age,” Maggie’s mom crooned, pointing across the vast, overgrown field that separated their house from the lake to the thin, white figure on the bank. Maggie looked to her mom in exasperation—they were both out of breath and lugging their suitcases across the yard, but even so, her mom hadn’t given up her relentless mission to point out the positives.

  Maggie dropped her box of linens in front of the porch stairs and surveyed their new house, thinking her mother had her mission cut out for her.

  Her uncle had described the property, which they’d inherited years ago, as “rustic.” In pictures it had looked run-down. In person it was closer to “ramshackle” or “derelict.” They’d never even bothered to come look at it, always planning to sell it when they got around to it—but things had been different then.

  Maggie stood with her hands on her hips and tried to catch her breath, sweat dripping down her temples. They’d already lugged a bunch of boxes onto the front porch, but they hadn’t even started on the furniture in the U-Haul yet. They couldn’t afford movers, so she tried to look like she didn’t mind the work. Now she pulled out her cell phone to see if she had any texts, but there was no signal. She looked around for some kind of hill where she might get better reception, but the land was flat and low to the water. She felt a pang for her friends back home.

  Mrs. Larsen rested her hands on her hips too and stared around at the yard. “It’ll take some work, but it really is beautiful. Don’t you think, Maggles?”

  Truthfully the property was beautiful, in a shabby, romantic, old-fashioned way. The house, a yellowing, formerly white Victorian, looked ancient and barely livable. “Built in 1886,” her dad had said. It slumped on a wide expanse of tall, browning late summer grass that stretched to the shore of Lake Michigan under an expanse of endless blue sky. The grass was alive with grasshoppers twirling from one landing spot to the next, and already Maggie could hear the crickets coming awake. Crickets were a novelty. She’d only ever lived in Chicago, falling asleep to city sounds almost every night for as long as she could remember.

  Making the spot even more serene was the fact that the adjoining property—the one that must belong to the girl on the beach—was spectacular. You could tell where one lot ended and the other began by the deeply green, manicured lawn that started at the property line. A majestic, gleaming white house stood just at the lake’s edge, about a hundred yards from the Larsens’ new front door and partially obscured by a thin forest of pine trees.

  “It’s great,” Maggie said, giving her mom her best “can-do” smile. This was her permanent facial expression these days, whenever she looked at her parents. She wanted them to know that, whatever problems they were dealing with right now, she wasn’t going to be one of them.

  “Have you seen your room?” her dad asked, heaving his way up the stairs with a box of books in his arms, his balding head glistening in the sun.

  Maggie shook her head. She hadn’t even gone inside yet, dropping boxes on the porch though her parents had gone in several times already. It was her way of putting off the inevitable reality of a new home and a new life she didn’t want. But now she faked excitement and followed him inside.

  The interior was covered with a thin layer of dust, and the floors were slightly bowed in the middle, everything wooden and antique and distressed-looking. The kitchen appliances were mustard yellow but the walls were a faded pastel, as if the seventies had vomited all over the fifties. Little artifacts from previous residents lay scattered here and there: a domino on the kitchen floor, a coupon stuck to the refrigerator by a Mickey Mouse magnet. Maggie continued through the kitchen into the living room, which looked out across a crumbling deck toward the blue shimmer of the lake. Turning left toward another open archway, she walked through a web that she had to pick out of her mouth, then moved on down the hall to the stairs.

  She laid her hand on the wobbly banister and creaked her way up to the second floor. To her left she fo
und what she instantly knew would be her room: a nook with a slanted ceiling and a large window that looked out on the grass and across it toward the white house, with a small, yellowing radiator against one wall. The cozy space felt like a hideaway from the world and smelled like trapped summer air, flowery and dusty.

  It made her think of the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, downgrading to a cottage by the sea. She could make the best of it, like they had. And if life ended up being as underwhelming here as she expected . . . well, it was only a year anyway—then graduation, then real life. Her best friend, Jacie, was fond of saying Maggie knew all she knew about life from reading about it rather than living it—Jacie had a habit of telling Maggie what her shortcomings were.

  She walked back downstairs and onto the back deck, where her parents were taking a breather on an ancient porch swing that looked like it would collapse at any moment. Her dad had bought a local paper on their way through town, and he handed her the piece he was done with already. “We’re taking a ten-minute break,” he said. “Absorb some local flavor.” He smiled at her—his apologetic I’m sorry we’re putting you through this smile. Maggie took the paper—not because she wanted to read it, but because she wanted to be obliging.

  She sat on the top step of the porch and flipped through the back pages of the section first (a habit), reading about a fishing captain who restored old ships and the latest public appearances of the Princess of the Cherry Festival and a fender bender in Sturgeon Bay. She and her dad exchanged an amused glance; the paper was almost painfully quaint.

  But on the front page was a story about a teenager who’d died in Whitefish Harbor, four towns over. (Maggie remembered driving past it once they’d arrived on the peninsula.) The girl had been found drowned in the lake, floating facedown with no signs of struggle, and the police were trying to figure out whether it was a suicide, an accident, or something more sinister.

  “Anything interesting, you two?” her mom asked.

  “A girl died,” Maggie said to her mom. “They think she may have killed herself.”

  Mrs. Larsen put her hand to her throat, looking slightly sickened. “Oh how awful. Her poor parents.”

  Maggie looked up from her paper and saw the skinny girl along the shore finally turning and walking toward her house.

  “Probably pretty unheard of in a small town like that,” her dad said. “What a shock.”

  “Well,” her mom said, after letting out a long sigh, “the sun’ll be down in about an hour. No rest for the wicked. Let’s get the rest of this stuff inside.”

  Maggie stood without a complaint. Her mom always said she was the world’s only teenager who never complained about anything.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  2

  MAGGIE AWOKE THE NEXT MORNING TO THE DISTANT SOUND OF HAMMERING IN the woods. She sat up, stretched, pressed her face against the window, and looked down across the field toward the trees with the sun warming her face. She got out of bed.

  Her dad was on the back porch, his hands on his hips, looking around in confusion. It only took a moment to see why. The railings of their crumbling porch were covered in vases of wildflowers and boxes of . . . Maggie stepped closer to examine one . . . Earl Grey tea. There had to be at least twenty boxes of tea, covering every available surface of the railing. Running her hands along some of the flowers, she finally came to a white envelope taped to one of the vases. Inside was a blank white card with one line scrawled in wild, messy cursive at the center: Welcome to Water Street.

  She and her dad exchanged an amused, bewildered smile.

  “Friendly,” her dad said.

  “And weird,” Maggie added.

  There was no signature.

  “Well, hopefully they’ll come by again,” her dad said. Then yawned. “What a place,” he said. “Porte des Morts. At least we made it through our first night.” He widened his eyes in mock relief

  An hour south of here—Maggie knew from studying the map they had in the car—the peninsula of Door County forked off from Wisconsin like a hitchhiker’s thumb into the lake, isolating itself. The whole county—according to the guidebooks her dad had piled onto her lap in the car—was full of unspoiled marshes and pebbly beaches; low, gray rock cliffs along the slate-blue waterline; piney forests; old lighthouses; ancient drive-ins; and old-fashioned motels. Below the county line, the cities left the peninsula alone (outside of the summer months at least, when tourists poured in to rent summer cottages and eat their body weight in fudge and cheese curds). But the most interesting thing she’d read was the reason for the county’s name. The French had christened it Porte des Morts, or Death’s Door, because the strait between Door County and the mainland was littered with shipwrecks—supposedly more than in any other section of freshwater in the world. Several things made the straits dangerous, apparently: hidden underwater shoals, unpredictable winds, and storms.

  “I like Earl Grey,” her dad said, and started gathering up the tea. “It makes me feel British.”

  That week, when they weren’t doing her homeschool lessons, Maggie and her dad tried to get the house into livable order while her mom started her new job at the Gill Creek Community Bank. It was a huge step down from her executive job at the bank in Chicago, but it had been the best she could find. Maggie would have to find a job too. She’d been painstakingly saving for college since the day her mom had been laid off the first time, three years ago.

  Each morning Maggie put on an old pair of overalls she’d found at Goodwill and scrubbed one room from top to bottom—spreading suds all over the wooden floors of the kitchen, living room, parlor, and hallway, while her dad tinkered at this and that counter or banister or door that needed fixing, learning to be a handyman as he went, with a big book he’d bought at Lowe’s by his side. The house began to reveal itself under its layers of dirt: delicately flowered linoleum from the forties or fifties, pale pastel walls, ancient scratches in the floor. Maggie even found the name Kitty carved messily into the back of the medicine cabinet and dated 1890, as if some little girl had been determined to leave her mark on the place.

  The weather was warm, but the heat of summer was gone, so they left all the doors open, ignoring the few bugs that flew in through the holes in the screens. As Maggie worked she could hear the distant lapping of the water on the lakeshore and, sometimes, the distant hammering in the woods. She still hadn’t taken the time to walk over to the lake and dip a toe in.

  She scrubbed, dusted, and arranged her room bit by bit. The walls were a flaking sprawl of pink flowers, which she peeled using a scraper and hot water mixed with fabric softener. Once that was done, she painted the walls a pale blue that her dad picked up on sale at Lowe’s, which looked much better but also too plain. She dug out her pencils and a piece of loose-leaf and sat down to sketch a mural to do on one wall. But after sitting for a while, tapping her pencil against her teeth, she couldn’t think of anything that she was really excited about. She decided to wait for inspiration to strike, if ever. Maggie had used to paint and draw all the time as a kid, before she’d decided it wasn’t practical. She’d been good at it, but over the years her enthusiasm for it had slipped away.

  Once the plain white shelves were immaculately clean, she filled them with photos of her and Jacie, her and her parents, her favorite books (Jane Eyre, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Beloved), her dusty sketchbook that she hadn’t opened in years, and a figurine of a spider on a web that reminded her of Charlotte’s Web (which had been her favorite when she was a kid). She put a standing lamp in the corner so that it dimly illuminated her bed for reading, and tucked her white coverlet tight around the edges of her mattress the way she liked it. She put her collection of paints and canvases in a low cabinet, at the back, where they were unlikely to see the light of day again.

  That evening she finally got to put on her running shoe
s, pull her long hair into a ponytail, and jog down Water Street—which was the one way in and out and stretched across two miles of mostly empty fields and woods before it hit a main road. It all looked different running than from the car: the dipping valley; the pastures; the shimmer of the line of Lake Michigan to her left; the stand of thick, shady pine trees across the fields. From some slight rises along the road she could see the shining tin tops of distantly neighboring farmhouses, but when she pulled out her cell phone there was still no signal. Besides the house next door, there was only one more property, obscured within the woods and marked by a rusted, crooked mailbox with a No Trespassing sticker stuck to one side, a Beware of Dog sign planted beside it, and a long, winding driveway that disappeared into the trees. It had to be the property where the hammering had been coming from, but she didn’t slow down to get a closer look.

  Her blood was pumping hard now. Every time she got a glimpse of the sky, it seemed to be doing something different: filling up with white, puffy clouds; getting crisscrossed and scarred by the trails of airplanes; graying and seemingly getting lower to the ground. Running, Maggie liked to imagine she was a wolf, strong and fast. It always made her feel less restless, a little less stuck in her own skin. She pushed herself, going harder than usual. At the end of her route, panting and holding her knees, she paused to look at a tall, gray silo in a field of high grass, and the sky lit up for a split second. A late summer storm was coming in, and the silo stood out stark white against the gray night. Maggie turned back. She knew, from the ride in (she hadn’t been away from Water Street since), that there was nothing for another mile but wilderness.

  Back home her dad had disappeared into what he had deemed the study, no doubt arranging his over-the-top collection of books (he had over a thousand of them and hadn’t been willing to toss even one, much to her mom’s despair) in alphabetical order on the sagging, built-in shelves. An obsession with their books was one of the things Maggie and her dad had in common. Also they looked alike—symmetrical, dark-haired, with faint freckles over their noses—though Maggie, he liked to say, was prettier and not as bald. He hadn’t had a full-time job in two years, ever since they’d decided to homeschool her. According to him her classes hadn’t been keeping up with her brain, even after she’d skipped a grade. (Maggie, who’d liked school and her classmates and who hadn’t wanted to skip a grade in the first place, had resisted being pulled out, but that had been useless.)

 
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